Thursday, September 29, 2011

Our Spider

Liana and I are studying spiders. We're at the end of Zoology 3 that we began last year. It's a good time of the year for spiders. They seem to be everywhere. Or maybe we are just more tuned in to find them now. We built a frame to invite a spider to spin a web so we could observe it and then planted the frame outside near the bamboo grove. Yesterday we went out to check on it only to find it was damaged from all the rain we've had. It took a long time to make, so that was discouraging.

As we folded up our project to put out for the trash, Fred said, hurry, come and check out this spider. There, right in front of the shed, was a huge spider! Huge from our perspective anyway, I guess it would not be large at all in the Amazon rain forest. It was fat and hairy, with striped legs and two white spots on its abdomen that looked like eyes. We've already learned that brown recluse spiders don't live here and black widow spiders are very distinctive, so we concluded this spider was harmless. And not scary. Liana didn't back away in fear; instead she ran for the camera and got up close trying to get a good shot.

We stood there a long time watching our spider. It was building a very large orb web and seemed to be in a great hurry. We were fascinated because we'd read about the way an orb web is constructed and this spider certainly had the directions memorized. How can a little creature be so precise? How can each strand of silk be placed in just the right spot to form this beautiful design? We watched as it raced up and down making the radial lines and then come back to the center and circle around attaching them all.

Our multitude of photos did not turn out. Liana tried hard to capture this moment but the spider was so quick in its work. It just wouldn't stand still to pose. So we imprint this special time we shared in our memory and in these words. In light of the book I'm reading, I think, what if we hadn't stopped...if we hadn't really looked... These times are the treasures of life.

We're hoping for a sunny morning so we can go out and see dewdrops on the silk and maybe get a better photo.


The next morning was cloudy, but we went to check on our spider anyway. It had caught a small beetle in its beautiful web. As we watched, it wrapped the insect around and around in white silk. Then suddenly, as if it just noticed us standing there, it quickly skimmed across the web and disappeared beneath the shed roof.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Naming the Gifts

Three scenes run through my mind this morning. My good friend telling me, "I don't want to do this anymore." Another person telling me that thoughts of death are ever present. How do we live this short life fully, prepared for the fate of every person ever born? And then Gretchen's wedding shower, a joyful celebration yesterday, my dining room bursting with young women and their laughter amidst decorations of green and gold and pumpkin spice (and everything nice). But do we have to wait for these big events to find joy?

I haven't finished Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. It shouldn't be read quickly. The library book had to be returned but this is a book to keep, to re-read, to live. I need to be reminded to live a life of gratitude for the simple gifts, so I ordered a copy from Amazon. I never read self-help books by the latest guru or psychologist. This is not a trendy formula of "do this and you'll be happy." It is not a "name it and claim it" false doctrine. This book is about living a God-centered life with hands open to receive all he has to give us. The beautiful and the good, along with the not-so-good. We can be thankful because all of it comes from him. Even the most difficult of life situations.

The author talks about "humanity's discontent with all that God freely gives..It scrapes us raw." What a good description. I am scraped raw by my never-satisfied, critical attitude. Then when my ugly and self-destructive habits spill over in words and actions, self-condemnation sets in. Ann says thanksgiving "prepares the way for God to show us his fullest salvation from bitter, angry, resentful lives and from all the sin that estranges us from him."

What is the remedy? "When one is thirsty one quenches one's thirst by drinking, not by reading books which treat of this condition." (Jean Pierre de Caussade) What can we DO? I've suffered many years with an attitude problem.

A friend challenged the author to name a thousand things she loves, one thousand blessings, one thousand gifts. I also challenge you to begin a list. "Not of gifts you want but gifts you have... Writing down the gifts is receiving them."

I wrote my first one on August 30th. Hot pink sunset in waning summer sky. It's a picture of how I feel sometimes, joyous color in descending darkness. Click on it and see the beauty.

Friday, September 16, 2011


It was just another task in our too busy schedule. Another aggravation to take this long drive on a rainy evening. My car had been recalled. We would need to leave it overnight at the dealership.

After dropping off the car, we got into Fred's to go home. But traffic at this time of day was crushing. We decided to wait it out a little. What to do? Fred suggests burgers. We rarely ever eat fast food, so everyone cheered the idea. We ordered and the clerk asked if the girls wanted crowns. Fred thought he said "crayons" so he said sure. The girls graciously accepted their paper crowns and then the clerk said, "How about you, Dad?" Fred said yes and promptly put his crown together and set it on his head, the girls laughing at the absurdity.

During our meal, the girls and Fred wore their crowns. I wish I'd had a camera! Fred even walked out of the restaurant still wearing his, amidst more giggles from us all. This is so not like him. We still had time to kill. Kill? No, time to enjoy each other and our evening out. We headed to our favorite bookstore and perused the shelves, looking for gifts to add to Christmas lists. (Fred would not wear the crown in the bookstore, much to our disappointment.) Fred and I relaxed with cups of coffee and the girls thumbed through a book on world records that someone had left on the table. Arielle filled us in on these foolish wonders. The wonder is right here--the four of us together, the laughter and conversation.

An errand to run became not just another irritation, but an opportunity. Parents set the tone. We can't blame the kids. So instead of taking out our frustration by bickering, our usual default mode, Fred decided the theme would be "family night out on the town." Simple things. Gratitude. It changes everything.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

My Gift to You

On August 15 I started to read a book recommended by a friend of mine. It starts with the author's story of a tragedy in her life. As I read the words Arielle played lively old piano pieces in the other room and Fred sat in an interview across town and Liana was out having fun with her friend and all the while lightening cracked across the sky. I read a bit, stopping to stir the ground turkey browning on the stove, pausing to think. All of this is life: grief and music, anxiety and companionship, extraordinary, untamed power of the heavens and peace in my little kitchen. What does it all mean? I noted the date because I knew this was a day that could change my life. I read the words in the book showing me how to slow down, take notice, pay attention.

This author, Ann Voskamp, is on to something. I've had the same vague truths floating about me for years. That joy is found in simple gifts, of seeing God in all things. Living with gratitude for it all. But I would never be able to write the words the way she does. It is truly the most beautiful book I have ever read.

Popular now is the "bucket list." Things to see before you die. The author says, "Are there physical places that simply must be seen before I stop breathing? Why? To say that I've had reason to bow low? To say that I've seen beauty? To say that I've been arrested by wonder? Isn't it here? Can't I find it here?"

And then..."I don't need more time to breathe so that I may experience more locales, possess more, accomplish more. Because wonder really could be here--for the seeing eyes."

So my gift to you is to suggest you read this book. Then live it and find joy.

Friday, September 09, 2011

The 8th Clan

The Cherokee and their seven clan system makes them distinctive from many other Native American tribes. The Cherokee have a matrilineal society and descendents are traced strictly through the mother's side of the family. A person receives his mother's clan at birth and retains his clan for life. Cherokees intermarried with whites more than members of other Native American tribes, causing many problems with the laws of the clans. Children, who were both white and Indian ancestry, were still regarded as Cherokee by their clansmen.

Seven is a sacred number to the Cherokees. If clan affiliation is not known, it is very rare that it will be identified. There is no record of clan membership on file.

The seven clans of the Cherokee are: Panther Clan, Long Hair Clan, Bird Clan, Paint Clan, Deer Clan, Wild Potato Clan, and Wolf Can.

We all traveled many highway miles to be together for one day. Our family from up north, two brothers and their families from down south, and all the roads intersect at a park just outside the Cherokee Reservation. We've been here many times before. So many memories fill my mind. A dark evening cooking chicken over a grill--just my mom and Fred and me. I remember not just the event, but what was stirring in my heart then. My temporary stint in Atlanta, the summer I was lost. My dear mother was my foundation of love and security, steadfast no matter where I wandered. I think of another time tubing down this same creek with my young nieces, all of us bouncing off the rocks with shrieks of laughter. Family. We change and grow but here we are, all together again. And then I think of the last time, three years ago. My brother's pain piercing us all. We upheld him with love and prayed for better times to come.

So we meet once again under the sheltering trees of the Smokies. Our time together here will be so short. One family will be here only for the day before taking to the highway again. How do you connect the years in such a short time? There is no time for deep conversation, but it is a joy to see the beloved faces and hold them close for a moment.

We have two new family members to meet--my oldest brother's fiancee and my new grand-niece. Everyone says, "You have to meet Angela. You will love her!" And we do! Then my sister brings her granddaughter, and we terrify the adorable baby with our exuberance as we crowd around her. We feast on unconventional picnic food--delicious tamales my sister has made. We take silly pictures and tell silly stories. The kids wade in the cold mountain creek. Then too quickly it is all over and we pack up the car and say sad good-byes. So many words left unsaid. Maybe too much silliness and not enough real connection. I want to know their hearts, their dreams, their regrets. Time races on. Where will are lives be at the next reunion?

All of us lay claim to Cherokee ancestry, but we do not know our clan. After spending several days with my zany family, I suggest we form a new clan. (I know, the number 7 is sacred, but really, who would take us in any of the other clans?) So I suggest we become the 8th Clan of the Cherokee, our own distinctive clan. We need a name. Please look closely at the picture below of the patriarchs of this family, and give me your suggestions for a name for the 8th Clan.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Soul Food

My friend Joan's husband came for dinner. As I set the table, the place next to his was conspicuously empty. Joan should be here. Why did we never invite the two of them to a meal? Too busy and too overwhelmed with life. That's the only excuse I can come up with. My sad reason for not doing many things.

This man brings me gluten-free oat bran muffins. I am surprised he knows about these. Joan made them for me when I was first diagnosed with celiac and she gave me the recipe years ago. I coax the muffins from the tin, still warm, and arrange them on a plate. It's as if Joan has given them to me. My heart is heavy.

Joan's husband and Fred are on the deck grilling. I cut a zucchini into round disks, fruit heavy with fullness of life, fresh picked. As I dip them into beaten egg and crumbs, I pause, startled. God is here. Here in the mundane, in my ordinary kitchen and my ordinary life. He's here in the deep well of grief and he transfigures simple acts into beauty. His bounty from our meager garden can nourish an empty soul. I reach for one soft, round muffin and eat it now. The offering is sweet and filling. Sacred food.

The bowls and plates for the meal cover the empty spot at the table. We surround Joan's husband with food and love.